“I didn’t think you’d come,” the burly fellow crossed his arms. “Being a Christian and all.”
I took in his disposition. There was no mistaking the hostility he had for me.
“Well? What’ll it be, Harding?”
I raised an eyebrow.
“Mr Harding,” he amended. “Look…our crops are failing and sickness spreads through the village like a blight. My people need help, and I don’t care where it comes from.”
“And this has been happening since…?”
“The first sickness hit in 1860. It got worse from then on.”
I rubbed my chin.
Three decades of misfortune.
“Patterns? The sickness comes every year. It claims young, old, man, woman and child. Victims die in mere weeks.” He shuddered. “Their faces rot away.”
“It’s not leprosy,” he grunted. “One of your physicians confirmed that.”
“Was he able to treat the sickness?”
“He was not. And calling in an outsider brought her wrath. The sickness fell upon us faster.”
I thought a while. “The goddess you worship – Aibhileen. You are sure you have done nothing to anger her? Save for calling in the doctor, that is?”
“Nothing. We visit her shrine every other day. We hang garlands and light candles for her. She has always held a great love for us. In the old days, before your people came, she would descend every afternoon to dance and drink mead with us.” He sighed.
“And this…sickness, and the destruction of your crops…this happens just once a year? In June?”
“Always in June.”
I surveyed the pagan village. The sky was a rather becoming blue in these parts, and there were wild daisies everywhere, their stalks swaying slowly in a not-quite-there breeze. The scent of sage was in the air.
“Look, Harding, if you don’t believe -”
I raised a hand to silence him.
“I sense an entity here,” I said.
I turned to look him directly in the eyes. “I can feel its rage.”
(To be continued)
Note : This is the sequel to A Most Peculiar Haunting, originally named “Child”. For those of you who haven’t read it, Alexander Harding is a spirit detective in the late Victorian era. He investigates all manner of creepy-crawlies.